Category Archives: Life

The Blackberry Behemoth

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The summer after we moved into our house six years ago, these prickly, viney, branches started creeping through the fence. The people behind us were hoarders whose yard had become home to mountains and valleys of every sort of junk, from the mundane to the deadly. Finding the source of those creepers was damn near impossible, and we were two working parents with a toddler and zero time for playing yard detective. So, we let them come; up and over, in and around, decorating the plain wooden fence with a bit of prickly green.

Then, one day, midsummer, we noticed something dark sprouting at the tip of one of those vines. Blackberries; plump, sun ripened, and delicious, nestled between the leaves. At this point, we’d been apartment dwellers for a number of years with no yard or outside space to speak of. Just having a yard to call our own was amazing but having our very own blackberry bushes along the fence? That was pure magic.

The blackberries grew, along with our family, over the next few years. We had a couple more kids, and I watched as the vines turned into bushes that took over our back yard. Suckers sprouted in the grass, thorny arms reached toward the swing set. I was frozen, always with a baby on my hip, a clinging toddler, or a job to get to, incapable of action of any kind. Life marched on, the bushes grew into a spiny death trap, and I watched, powerless to stop it.

Every day in the summer, I’d come home from a fulfilling day as a soulless cubicle drone, and I’d see those bushes back there, mocking me. I’d scroll through Facebook and Instagram pictures of babies crawling through perfectly manicured backyards, or friends gathering for barbecues in carefully maintained, grown up spaces – free from the clutches of weeds and the dreaded blackberry behemoth. And I’d wonder what the hell was wrong with me, with us, that we couldn’t get our shit together enough to do something that everyone else seemed to be doing without a problem.

Are we so insanely terrible at adulthood that we can’t even manage to do something as simple as yard work? Why is everyone else so freaking motivated to DIY the hell out of everything? Why did we even buy a house to begin with?? WHAT AM I DOING WITH MY LIFE?

I love my husband. I adore my kids. And I truly believe that I do not suck at motherhood. But adulthood is something I can’t seem to wrap my head around. I want to do these things. I can Pinterest ideas with the best of them. When it comes down to brass tax, sitting on the couch, staring at pictures of the amazing things other people have accomplished and hating myself for failing at being a grownup is about as much as I can manage.

I’ve been struggling through this quagmire, hating this blackberry bush for the last five years. We’ve trimmed it back a few times, tried to get it under control, but no matter what we do, it always come back; bigger, bolder, and more luxurious in its prickly grandeur than ever. My fruit fiend kids think the berries are some miracle bestowed upon our yard by Mother Nature, albeit a miracle that comes with various pricks, scratches, and cries of, “Mommmmyyyy!! I’m BLEEDINNNGGG!” To me, it was the physical manifestation of everything I hadn’t accomplished in my life. And it just kept getting bigger.

This past weekend I was standing in front of my house, looking at the dilapidated flower beds, wondering where people get the energy and money to landscape, when I looked over at my youngest, happily attempting to catch and vivisect an ant, and it hit me. She’s two and a half now. TWO AND A HALF. She’s no longer a clinging, immobile bundle, or a barely walking baby who has to be shadowed constantly. She’s a toddler who basically stays where I tell her to and is more than thrilled to help Mommy rip the shit out of some gnarly weeds. And my older kids? Five! And seven! Holy grail ages that know the basic rules of staying within ear/eye-shot and follow them!

I bent and began tentatively weeding, encouraging my youngest to help, “Oh! Are you going to pull up weeds with Mommy? Isn’t this fun?” After about 20 minutes, I had a nice pile of weeds and, I swear, the hosta were smiling at me. I turned, walked around the corner of the house, and confronted my nemesis. The time had come.

After handing my daughter over to my husband, I pulled on a pair of thick, leather work gloves, and stared at the mess that was our back yard. It was so difficult to know where to begin. The vines twisted and turned, wrapping around each other in an impossible array of knots and tangles.

“Screw it,” I mumbled, grabbed the nearest branch, and pulled as hard as I could. It wasn’t easy. By the time I was done, my back and shoulders ached, and my arms were covered with scratches and cuts. But I had worked hard. I pulled every last one of those invasive suckers up by the roots. In the end, I lorded over a pile of thorny rubble as tall as my five year old son, surveying the blank dirt canvas that now ran along our back fence.

I’m not sure what I’ll do with the space, or when it will be done. It may never look like a suburban oasis, and the plants may start creeping back out of the ground at some point. But, for now, I’m basking in the glow of victory, content in the knowledge that if when they do come back, I’m perfectly capable of ripping them right back out again, one vine at a time.

 

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When I was 18 I confessed my undying love for my high school crush in his yearbook. Yeah. I was THAT girl. I don’t know what I thought would happen. Maybe he would suddenly see me for what I really was and love me back. Or maybe he would mock me mercilessly and I would be faced with the reality that he was a total ass hat and not the shining pillar of teen boy I thought he was.

Unfortunately, life isn’t an ’80’s movie. I bared my soul, and you know what happened? Absolutely nothing. Life went on as usual. I didn’t see him again until an incredibly awkward encounter at our ten year class reunion. He was drunk. I was sober. And he did end up being a total ass hat.

My point is.. well I’m not sure. I guess I’ve been thinking a lot about the moments in my life when I’ve been bold and brave, those moments when I’ve stepped up to the plate and taken a huge risk. There aren’t a lot of them, or at least I don’t think so. I tend to play it safe and protect myself from any  emotional or psychological discomfort. In the end, I really think that does more harm than good.

Back to bravery though. The moments you choose to close your eyes and fall off the cliff, trusting fate to catch you, those are the ones that define a person. When I look back at mine, I wonder less about my capacity for courage, and more about my inability to choose the right times to say fuck all and dive, head first, into the abyss.

Confessing my high school crush? Sure, maybe it was something I needed to do to find a sense of closure. Or maybe it was just a self serving ploy to create a little boy drama in my otherwise virginal existence. I had the guts to write down my feelings on the way out the door, but I couldn’t let go and try actually interacting with the guy. I didn’t look beyond my media sculpted sense of romance long enough to see that love isn’t like the movies. The real risk isn’t in the confession, it’s in building a relationship from the ground up, putting in time and effort in spite of the possibility that it could all go to Hell.

Therein lies my weakness. My bravery is always quick and fleeting. There’s the initial adrenaline rush (YES! I’m GOING to do this!), then it ebbs away when I realize that this might take more than just one bold move on my part.

I’ve been in a healthy relationship for over eleven years, I’ve given birth completely naturally. I’ve done both of these things with an absolute commitment to my cause. Yet the idea of committing, really committing to something just for me, like the childhood dream of being a writer, terrifies me. It’s the greatest, and perhaps the most important, mental challenge I’ve faced. And always, always, as I press on through each excruciating paragraph, that voice in the back of my mind is whispering, but what if you fail? What if you put in all this work for nothing? What if you are the talentless hack you think you are?

As my throat constricts and panic sets in, a second, much weaker, voice breaks through: What if I CAN? What if time and commitment are enough? What if I can pull it off and live the dream?

What if.. what if.. what if..

Living life bravely, refusing to just be lemming, getting in line and following the herd off of that inevitable cliff, takes a lot more than a willingness to be bold and take a few risks. It takes the guts to stand up, not to others, but to yourself and say “No matter what it takes, I’m going to do this.” Refusing to bail when things get uncomfortable, completely ignoring all exit routes: that’s real bravery. And it’s a lot easier said than done.

To Live Bravely

Because I’m such an expert

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In the past few days I’ve received several messages from friends who can be counted among those cool enough to check out my bloggy blog. It’s really interesting because the gist of those messages has been “thanks for writing about your experience. I’m going through the exact same thing.” The funny thing is that I’m getting these from some of the very people who inspired me to do something more with my life. They always appeared to me to have it together and to be doing exactly what they want to do. I guess it’s a grass is always greener thing.. but I have to wonder: WTF is going on with all of us? Why are we so unsettled?

Sometimes I think the problem is that our generation has been given too many options. We’ve always been told we can do whatever we want. Between TV and the Internet we’re exposed to so many different things  it becomes hard to ferret out what truly interests us. I think, when we graduate high school, we also feel a lot of pressure to choose NOW. How can you possibly have enough life experience at that point to really know what direction you want your life to go in? I mean, some people do… and that’s fantastic. Some people always know and have the drive to go after it. But I think the majority of us change so much in our early 20’s that, by the time we hit 25, we feel like we’re entering the midlife crisis zone. It’s the awkward teenager phase all over again except, instead of not knowing what the hell our bodies are doing, we can’t figure out our own minds.

I’m starting to think this is the wrong way to look at it. This inability to settle shouldn’t be viewed as a crisis, it should be viewed as a gift. It’s not that we CAN’T settle. It’s that we AREN’T WILLING TO. And that can be a beautiful thing. It’s an opportunity to try different things and not feel guilty if they don’t work out. So what if you went to school for something and now you hate it? You tried something and it didn’t work out. SO WHAT? Don’t waste your time focusing on the failure, see it as an opportunity to grow and change. Just add it to the list of things you know you don’t want to do. It gets you one step closer to finding the thing that will bring you joy.

So, there’s my self help guru moment of the day. ‘Cause, you know, I’m totally in a place where I should be doling out advice (sarcasm people, SARCASM). Now I want to pose a couple of questions. What did you want to be when you were younger? What was that one thing that excited you, gave you that spark that you needed to get through the awfulness that is highschool? Did you give it up? Why? We may not have had the life experience at that age to choose the right career path, but we did have the time and innocence to follow our guts and dream.

I used to want to be a writer and a singer. Both faded out for me because I convinced myself that I wasn’t as good as I thought I was. Plus, you know, “those aren’t realistic career choices.” I didn’t do either for a very long time. This venture into blogging is the first writing I’ve done for myself in years. And you know what? It feels DAMN good.

The SAHM Debate

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On Friday I came across a blog entry about the debate over whether moms should work or stay at home. Reading through the comments I became more and more enraged at the ridiculousness of both arguments and the petty, catty tone of the women writing them. I can’t believe how easily women turn on each other. I have never had a choice about working. For us it’s not a matter of sacrificing eating out or shopping at Walmart so that I can stay home. If I don’t work full time we can’t afford to pay our bills. PERIOD. So I work.. even though it kills me to leave my kids every day. I can’t think about whether or not it would be better for me to stay home because I simply do not have the option. Society finds so may ways to make women feel guilty and inadequate. It’s time we band together and change the tone of these conversations. All of us feel overwhelmed and guilty about something. All of us question whether we are making the right decisions. It wouldn’t be such a heated debate if people really felt the answers were so black and white. It’s the gray areas that catch us and put us on the defensive. If we could just stop arguing and start recognizing that we are all simply trying to make the best choices for our families maybe we could help each other to be better mothers instead of attacking each other.

So I spent the morning freaking out about the whole thing and trying not to let some of the comments get to me (one particularly lovely lady wrote about how she chose to stay home with her kids and now that she is back to work teaching school she can TOTALLY TELL which kids have moms who cared enough to stay home the first five years). It so happens that I was actually home with my kids on Friday. My daughter had a fever and, since she has had two febrile seizures, we don’t mess with fevers in our house. I came home from work so I could spend the day pumping her full of Tylenol and Motrin in an attempt to ward off any sudden temperature spikes.

I was still coming up with retorts to the whole awful argument as I laid my kids down in my bed to read books before nap time. I read through The Giving Tree once on autopilot. Then a little voice said “Read it again, Giving Tree, Mama.” I looked at my two year old. Her eyes were glassy and she was laying there limp and lethargic, a shadow of her typical self.  I snapped out of my revere and reached over to brush the hair from her flushed forehead. ” You want this one again? You don’t want a different book?” She shook her head no. “OK, baby. We’ll read this one again.”

As I turned back to the beginning of the book I was suddenly completely aware of everything in that moment. A breeze blew in the window carrying the smell of freshly cut grass. My three month old son kicked his pudgy little legs and cooed between us. And it occurred to me that nothing else mattered.  I was here right now with the two most perfect little people in the world. I could feel their warmth and hear their breath. They are alive and beautiful and I am the center of their world.

My weekend was filled with moments like that.. moments of grace where time moved more slowly for just a few seconds.. just long enough for me to take in the details and commit them to memory- The sound of Rory’s laugh as she played in the lake, the feel of her lips as she kissed my nose, my cheeks, my mouth, my ears.. again and again. And, finally, the heat of my son’s solid little body as I rocked him in the dark after a long day.. not wanting to put him down because as soon as I did he would be a little bit older.

I wish we could all stop focusing on what we are, are not or should be doing. I’m as guilty of it as anyone else. I’m going to try, though, to live in the moment a little bit more.. to really appreciate what I have. When it comes down to it my kids won’t remember how much or how little time I was able to spend with them. They will remember the quality of that time and the love they received.

The Hula Dancing Archaeologist

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Yesterday I accepted my financial aid package for school for the coming year. That means it’s official: I’m really going back.  I’ve been using family and work as an excuse not to finish the six measley credits I need for my degree for about three years now. Totally ridiculous, I know. In reality I’ve just been scared and (yes, I’ll admit it) completely lazy. Truth be told those six credits involve a required 135 hour internship and a studio art class that runs in three hour blocks twice a week, so the scheduling thing is a little crazy. But it’s something I need to do.

The plan right now is that I’m going to finish my original Art History degree then take the classes required to become certified to be an elementary school teacher. I don’t know if I’m totally sold on the teaching thing but it sounds good right now. Even if I decide to pursue something else after taking a few classes a little extra education never hurt anyone so it’s not like I will have wasted my time. I would really like to go into archaeology (I know, huh? Where’d that come from?) but I know that, at this point, I don’t have the time to commit to a masters and doctorate. Or, maybe I’ll decide that it is something I can pursue. I don’t know.

I’m one of those people who has so many interests I have a hard time narrowing what I want to do. In some ways this is fantastic because it means I’m open to trying new things.  It also makes it so that I have a hard time differentiating between what I’m really interested in and what is just a fleeting fancy. For example:

  • my fascination with history and the physical evidence it left behind= real interest
  • my brief interest in taking hula lessons that peaks every time I watch the opening credits of Lilo and Stitch with my daughter= fleeting fancy

This may look cut and dry but things like the hula can be very distracting. I just need to learn to keep my focus on what I really want to pursue rather than what I think is cool but know I would never follow through with.. Like hula dancing.. or anything that involves any semblance of physical coordination.

Diving in..

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Since having my second baby three months ago I’ve been thinking a lot about the amount of control I have over my life.. and how little I choose to use it. I love my life. I love my family.. but something is missing. I don’t know, maybe something about squeezing something that large out of my vagina (for the SECOND time) just begs for an epiphany.

I’m sure all of this has to do with age as well. I was 19 when I met my husband. We’ve been together almost 10 years. People kept telling me how much you change in your 20’s when I got married at 23.. how much you grow up and how many things you can miss if you get into all the big stuff early. I didn’t believe them at the time. And I still don’t completely agree. I’m happy in my marriage and I have no regrets about having my kids when I did. Everything I have done to this point has made me the person I am today.  I don’t want this blog to be about how much I regret not partying my way through my early 20’s.. because that’s not how I feel. I’ve just come to realize (and here’s the Oprah moment folks) that I’m worth a lot more than I give myself credit for. I look at other people and find myself feeling jealous of their accomplishments. Now it’s time for me to accomplish something. Just for me. I don’t want to ever hear myself warning my daughter that you can’t do everything you want to do in life. Women shouldn’t have to pick and choose… or feel held back by the choices they’ve already made. I’ve come to the conclusion that there is always a way. While I will always encourage my children to follow their dreams, I think the best thing I can do as a parent is lead by example. So, while the next few months or years may be challenging I think I’m ready to face it and I will be a better mother, wife and person for it.

Hearing Voices..

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Since having my miraculous burst of motivation I’ve been working with a friend ( who is starting a business doing personal coaching as well as business seminars called InnerAction) to set up realistic goals.  She calls it “homework”. I find this amusing because, normally, the word homework would cause me to immediately balk and run in the opposite direction. It seems however, in my newly matured state (you can stop laughing…now) this approach has been extremely helpful. I feel accomplished each time I complete an “assignment” and am excited to talk about what the next steps are toward my ultimate goal.

I think now would be an appropriate time to give a little background on my personality. I am a perfectionist.. but not in the traditional sense. I don’t work on things until they are perfect. Instead, I have this awesome little voice in my head that tells me not to bother trying anything unless I can do it perfectly and be the BEST.  This has always been a huge obstacle for me.  It has held me back from so many things and caused me to believe that other people have more skills and value than I do. Like I said, it’s AWESOME.

So my biggest obstacle since I’ve started my little journey has been remembering that I am in control, not that little voice. I have to tell that little voice to shut the hell up on a regular basis.. It does seem, however, that the more I tell it to leave me alone, the quieter it gets.

Now that I have established that I am not only a perfectionist, but completely insane I hope you can really appreciate the gravity of my completing even the most inconsequential of goals.  By this I don’t mean daily life things.. I manage to work a full time job, take care of my kids and generally keep my world from caving in around me on a daily basis without too much of a problem. I mean things like going back to school (working on it), writing a novel (working on it) and finding out where my passion really lies (not a clue.. it’s on the list).  Every step that I take toward completing these things is scary, difficult and shadowed by old dredged up feelings  of worthlessness. At the same time every step is empowering me to become who I want to be, even if I’m not sure who that is yet. That’s why I just have to keep walking.